LoCo: Two years, three partner entrepreneurs. When Mica Cruz, Achilles Tan, and Dr. Ayn Bedonia set out to make this venture work, it was clear they were on to something big. Mica was the first to try out the café establishment as a backyard business before in her home, and when she wanted to venture out later on to a bigger entity, her friends and partners seeing the business plan and its potential to help others, decided to join her.
Achilles is President and CEO and has the knack for the numbers, Mica is the Chief Designer and Creative Director and is in charge of branding, marketing, and advertising aside from R&D on the beverage and food, while Ayn is the External Relations and in charge of Franchising. Together with their diverse backgrounds and strong combination, they have created the LoCo brand and grown it to what it is today – three branches in the city (at Food Park in Molo, their first branch, beside St Paul’s in General Luna, and their HQ in Smallville) aside from Franchises in different Iloilo towns.
According to Achilles, “it is no easy feat to bring together three dominant personalities and artist personalities too but we manage with our diversity, with help from our families and our people, our strong support group. The brand is strong because we are surrounded by really good people who believe in us and what we are doing.” LoCo is short for Local Coffee. They have been in the market for two years. They have sourced every coffee bean they sell in the café from local farmers in different areas such as Leon, Calinog, Miag-ao, Igbaras and more.
They have traveled around to look for local farmers who they know they can help. They’ve decided to go direct to the farmers and buy from them, making sure these farmers get their fair price. Some of them are now able to send their kids to school with the extra income and some of them invested back in their farm and have bought their own milling machine with the money these entrepreneurs have given them.
Achilles and Dr. Bedonia tells the story: “The first time we met Arlyn who carried sacks of coffee by foot, she showed us a traditional mortar and pestle made of wood which she used to separate the coffee pulp from the bean when taking it to the mill wasn’t possible. She told us that she and her husband planted coffee when they married to supplement the income they earned from their other crops. Their house rests on a plateau just before the terrain shifts to a jutting hill where the coffee trees grow. On Christmas 2016 when we came to visit, she showed us a mill. This saved her the backbreaking trek to have her coffee beans milled, it allowed her to grind beans for her neighbors as well. Seeing somebody secure a future for herself and her family was the best gift ever.” They have sat down and listened to their farmers and try to help them in their daily lives.
LoCo’s advocacy has made these young entrepreneurs strengthen their resolve in expanding because they know every coffee cup they sell helps the local farmers and changes lives. This group believes in their social mission, that in every business aspect even in hiring they know they have this mindset of helping out. Now, their baristas also have jobs that they love and are learning new skills as the company grows. A story of one who started out as a barista and today is an area manager, he also is being groomed with more responsibilities and has invested back in the business too. LoCo has also enlisted professional help too with consultants to help them formalize what started out as a backyard business into a more systematized and formal entity, knowing that in developing their skills and know-how, they can do so much more.
They’ve started to build a community in the city, where now local artists and writers hang out in their Café knowing they are welcome here. A recent partnership with BKNWA the graphics shirt company has helped them gain more popularity. These young entrepreneurs are everything millennials today – transparent in business with their team, incorporating their social responsibility into their business, linking with others and building communities, their digital know-how, and being very young risk takers who rule with the heart aside from their creativity. Their business model is a win win situation for all – farmers, suppliers, employees, and owners.
Entrepreneurs Mica Cruz, Achilles Tan, Dr. Ayn Bedonia with Councilor Andrew Gustilo
LoCo prides itself in being the pioneer of Cold Brew in the market. Cold Brew Coffee process takes overnight to make and is not just the usual coffee you put ice into. Mica has come up with several flavors and a few favorites would be their French Vanilla and Vietnamese Iced Coffee. They also served hot coffee, of course, aside from flavored iced teas. They are also now sourcing out local tea such as hibiscus (gumamela) and moringa (malunggay) and will try out the banaba tea.
It’s the creative flavors that keep customers coming back for more and the fact that the product is really value for your money. They are now venturing out into a full-service café with breakfast meals all day. The owners are hands-on and are found in the LoCo HQ every day. If anyone wants a great conversation, over a cup of coffee they can head out to the LoCo HQ in Smallville. It is both their café and office and showplace for business inquiries and their test kitchen. So head on over to LoCo — for a cup of coffee or to inquire about franchising. They’ve opened to other entrepreneurs this year to share their advocacy.